Why Chicago still matters

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In our cover story this week, DDB Worldwide Chairman Keith Reinhard remarks that "Chicago should not worry about its position as much as it does," adding, "I've never understood why there is that sort of complex." Indeed. Rather than showing sensitivity about its lower billings than New York and heavily Midwestern bread-basket clients, advertising's second city should celebrate its strengths.

Some of the best package-goods advertising in the country has come from this city. And, outside of the spectacular collapse of Chicago-based Internet shop MarchFirst, the city was comfortably insulated from the worst of the dot-com devastation. As Chicago has proved, package-goods accounts can amply provide ad awards; doubters need look no further than Leo Burnett USA's work for Chicago-based Kraft Foods' Altoids mints and the "Whassup" ads created by DDB Worldwide, Chicago, for St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos.

As the pendulum swings back to old-economy stocks-and stockyards-it puts heartland agencies in a strong position to pick up new business and grow current billings. Chicago also stands to benefit from robust growth in media consolidation and marketing services, two disciplines in which the city is well-positioned.

Surely, there are hurdles: There are fewer creative luminaries in Chicago than years ago and, perhaps as a result, recruiting top ad-making talent from the coasts to the city's harsher climate isn't easy. The Windy City also has been buffeted by winds of change from global consolidation, leaving more of the ad agency industry's financial control in the hands of New York and European-based holding companies. There's also the perception that it's hard for new shops to break into the market and that there exists a cultural divide between Chicago ad executives and their eastern and western counterparts.

Perhaps it's Chicago's hard-working and responsible image that keeps it from shouting accolades from the rooftops as loudly as New York, Minneapolis or San Francisco. But Chicago need not obsess about being No. 2. With a bankable $15.2 billion in billings and a strongly positioned client base in Chicago, the ad business is only somewhat cooler at the lake.

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